Our Disney Vacation! Part 4

Day 6 – Disney Springs

We hadn’t planned to visit Disney Springs during our trip, but someone from the resort suggested it, and it seemed like a low-key way to spend our last day. Again, we went in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowds.

We did a little shopping and had lunch at T-Rex, a novelty restaurant with animatronic dinosaurs and a cave-like feel. Fun for the kids, and the gigantic Lava Flow made it fun for Mama, too. 😀

We also checked out the Disney Photo Pass Studio and used the Memory Maker to get some silly family shots, and some more traditional pics of the kids. There was no wait, and the photos took maybe five minutes. It could be fun to go back and do some more dressed up shots next time.

Day 7 – Travel

And before we knew it, it was time to fly home. It was the longest, shortest week ever.

Throughout the trip, we marveled at the kids’ exemplary behavior in the face of many new experiences, buoyed by the fun we had and the relative lack of stress. I expected more whining, more tears, more complaining; of course, there was a little of that, but nothing that lasted. I worried about spending so much money on one week, and that too-high expectations for our Big Family Vacation would lead to disappointment.

In the end, we had such a good week that none of us wanted to leave. Even Tim, our family’s self-proclaimed grump, was charmed. And despite my Scrooge-like concerns, the money was well spent, as it gave us time together as a family. My favorite souvenirs are the photos!

I’ve already drawn up a plan and a budget for a trip next January. With Starpoints, we’ll be able to fly for free, and thanks to the vacation club, we can stay in a larger 2-bedroom villa closer to the parks. We’ll skip the car rental to avoid the stress and parking fees, and use Lyft to get around. With a 6-day ticket to Disney, we’ll have more time to explore without the pressure of packing everything into three days. I really want to check out the evening activities at the parks and go to Epcot.

I’m so glad we did this, and can’t wait to go back!


Our Disney Vacation! Part 3

Day 4 – Rest Day

I’m glad we built some rest time into our schedule, especially since my leg was still acting up. You can see in my poolside lounging photo that it was quite swollen, even though the pain had mostly subsided by this point.

We took our rest day seriously; we slept in, snacked, and swam. The resort pool was excellent; not too crowded, with plenty of space for the kids to play, and located directly next to a small park/play area. The only real challenge was making sure Gwen didn’t drown herself. The kid can’t quite swim yet, but she’s not afraid to try!

Inspired by all the fun we’d had so far, Tim and I signed up for a vacation club/timeshare connected to our SPG account. Between earning double Starpoints and new Staroptions, we get steeply discounted rates and upgrades at a number of Starwood hotels and resorts. I hope to be blogging about a family trip to Kauai or the Bahamas in a couple years!

Day 5 – Legoland

I’ve wanted to take the kids to Legoland ever since I went to the San Diego park for work in 2012, so we took a day to go to the Florida park. We didn’t get to everything, not by far, but the kids had a good time. It seems like the park is designed more for the younger set, which meant Ellie and Gwen could do most rides on their own, making for a more relaxed time for Tim and me.

My favorite part was seeing all the LEGO sculptures and displays, and, of course, a trip to the LEGO store. You might be surprised to know I didn’t blow our budget on LEGOs, although I totally could have.

I have a feeling by next year, the kids will have aged out of Legoland (especially since they’re uninterested in the roller coasters and other “big kid” rides) so we probably won’t go back. But it was a fun way to spend a day for my LEGO-obsessed kids (and, let’s be honest, me too!)


Our Disney Vacation! Part 2

Day 3 – Animal Kingdom

Gwen loves animals, so we knew we’d have to hit up Animal Kingdom during our stay. Thankfully it’s a much smaller park than Magic Kingdom, so we were able to do a lot of fun things without the FOMO.

We started off by meeting Mickey and Minnie in their full explorer attire; the kids hadn’t met any characters in Magic Kingdom, so we figured this was a good first stop. The wait was longer than expected, but when they finally met their favorite mice, the kids were thrilled. Worth it!

Next, we used a FastPass for the Kali River Rapids, where we got thoroughly soaked. Thankfully the damp clothes didn’t bother us as we walked the rest of the park; it was so warm, we were mostly dried off by lunch time. We even had our photos taken.

We sat down for lunch at Yak & Yeti, where I indulged in a mango daquiri with my chicken tiki masala, both excellent.

Our next FastPass was well spent at the Kilimanjaro Safari, where we saw lots of animals; giraffes, rhinos, hippos, monkeys, the whole lot. This was a favorite, and Gwen watched in rapt attention the whole ride.

We had a later afternoon FastPass for Na’vi River Journey, but we were once again exhausted by 3 p.m., so we skipped the ride and went back to the resort to relax at the pool. We learned we are definitely not all-day-parks people, and that’s OK! Next time, we’ll plan to stay a little closer to the parks, and probably use Lyft rather than renting a car.


Day 4 – Disney’s Hollywood Studios

This park was an unexpected favorite; we planned it mostly for the Star Wars features (Tim and the girls are Star Wars fans) but there was a lot of fun to be had. It seems they’ve moved most of the character experiences to this park and Epcot, so a lot of our day was spent taking photos with some of the kids’ favorites.

I got to hug Goofy, who has always been my favorite Disney character. Side note: I was not quite five when I first went to Disney World, and I was so shy about meeting Goofy. I have a vivid memory of standing next to him for a photo and feeling overwhelmed. This meeting was much more casual!

We ate at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe, where I had my favorite meal of the week: an amazing pot roast with a classic chocolate shake (I am easy to please). The decor alone was worth the trip; heck, it was a trip.

We used a FastPass for the Star Tours ride (Tim does not recommend it if you’re prone to motion sickness), then met up with a bunch of the Disney Junior characters and BB8. We’d planned to use our final FastPast at Toy Story Mania, but the ride had problems so we swapped it for a quick Little Mermaid performance, and topped off the day with Disney Junior Live.

Again, we started flagging around 2, so we left to spend the rest of the day at our hotel, but not before taking a final family photo with Fantasia Mickey outside the park.

Hollywood Studios was the surprising favorite of the week so far.

Next time we come back, Hollywood Studios will have a whole new Toy Story section to explore. We still didn’t get to meet everyone – Donald and Daisy were there, but the lines were too long, and we didn’t have the patience to wait for Chewbacca. We could easily spend another full day here to get everything in. I’m already planning our next Disney vacation, with the idea we’ll take six days to explore the parks instead of three.


Our Disney Vacation! Part 1

I started planning this trip during my sabbatical, after feeling discouraged about not traveling during the summer due to unexpected financial strain. But last tax season we got an unexpectedly large refund, so we put 1/3 of it in a savings account for a vacation. On top of what I’ve saved from my small business earnings, it was just enough to make Disney World a possibility. Around that time, we also started using an SPG points credit card (yep, it’s a referral link) for all our expenses, and earned enough points over the course of six months to stay at a nice Sheraton resort.

I planned for three days at Disney parks, one day at Legoland, and two relaxation days where we could hang out at the pool and explore.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a family vacation without complications. Two weeks before we flew out, I slipped on a poorly salted sidewalk in downtown Bangor and banged up my left leg. It still hadn’t healed after 10 days; what I thought was just bruising turned into two large, painful hematomas, and a side trip to the ER for ultrasounds and X-rays. I was afraid I’d have to miss our vacation, but thankfully nothing was broken and I was able to walk around the parks mostly without pain as long as it was wrapped. That didn’t prevent me from spending the week worrying about blood clots and swelling, but who would I be if I didn’t have something to worry about?

Day 1 – Travel

We flew from our home airport to Boston, then to Orlando on Spirit. I know, I know; they have a terrible reputation, but the flights were cheap, and I bought a package deal that included our car rental, carryons, and faster boarding. We had an in-room washer/dryer at our resort, so we were able to travel light.

This trip marked the girls’ first flights, and we learned that Ellie does not like flying. At all. She was a trooper and powered through it, and was handsomely rewarded with an evening trip to the resort pool!

(We also learned she does not like escalators, especially the down ones.)

Pool time!

We made it! Pool time is cool time.

There was a kitchen in our suite, so we used Instacart to have groceries delivered from Publix (so nice, I wish we could get grocery delivery where we live), and ate breakfasts and most dinners at the resort. That saved a lot of money, so we treated ourselves to nicer restaurants while we were at the parks.

Day 2 – Magic Kingdom

We started our first day at Magic Kingdom bright and early. We found mornings were less crowded and hot; our best hours were from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. I’d picked out a few FastPass+ rides ahead of time, and we used the Disney app to check wait times so we rarely spent more than fifteen minutes in line. It helped that the kids weren’t picky about what they wanted to ride; everything was new to them (and us) so we had just as much fun on the less popular rides as we might have had on the popular ones.

We started with an easy Little Mermaid ride. The teacups were a family favorite, as was the Magic Kingdom railroad. Gwen found the splash pad at the Big Top and I think she could have spent the whole day there if we’d let her. We also did the Haunted Mansion, because I have fond memories of that one from childhood, and it did not disappoint.

We also splurged on the Memory Maker package, meaning I was able to download all the photos taken throughout the parks during our stay, so we took advantage of many Photo Pass opportunities. The convenience of having family photos taken without having to hand someone my phone each time was worth it.

We ate lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern; the food was great, and it was the perfect opportunity to rest up out of the heat. We found getting in line for an early lunch around 11 a.m. worked best to avoid the crowds.

Our final ride of the day was a FastPass for Big Thunder Mountain, because Ellie insisted she wanted to ride a roller coaster. Tim doesn’t do fast, loopy things, so I crammed into the cart with both girls, and we were off! I have no pictures because…

…I loved it, but I think the girls were traumatized. There were tears. But Ellie says she’d do it again if she could, so maybe there’s hope for her as a future thrill-seeker yet.

We decided to call it a day around 3, but not before having some snacks and seeing the Festival of Fantasy parade. We hadn’t planned to do this, but our exits were roped off for the parade route, and the kids loved seeing their favorite characters. It was a nice surprise to end the day.

After six hours at the park (plus travel time to get there and back), we were all wiped, and we only scratched the surface of Magic Kingdom. When we go back, we’ll plan to spend more time there.

Stay tuned for our experiences at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios!


Christmas 2017

Christmas blew past in a whirlwind of food and family. We’ve had a wonderful time with my brother and sister-in-law, plus birthday festivities for Ellie. It’s been a great week, and I’m looking forward to a few days of solid R&R before the new year.